This week, we read a double portion, Achrei Mot/Kedoshim! I share a thought with you about the first part of the double portion below but if you would like an additional thought about the second part of the double portion, just scroll down.
Biblical Values keep our Families Strong
Chapter 18 of Leviticus is seemingly a list of dos and don’ts, not unlike many of the rules of purity and impurity listed throughout Leviticus. But at closer examination, there is something different about the instructions listed here. The chapter begins with the verse:
You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. (Leviticus 18:3)
Following this introductory verse is a list of incestual relationships that are forbidden. Included as well, however, are the prohibition against homosexuality and the prohibition against human sacrifice to the Molech.
Clearly, what connects all of these prohibitions is the fact that they were common in Egypt or in Canaan, or both. God’s instruction, therefore, is not just about what is proper and improper behavior. It is an instruction against evil influences. It is these deeds that they have encountered in Egypt and will encounter in Canaan. In those countries, they are considered legitimate, but God brands them as abominations (Leviticus 18:29-30) and considers them to be a source of impurity for the nation (Leviticus 18:30).
There is a dynamic going on here that the Children of Israel were probably not even aware of at the time. They have just been selected out of the bonds of slavery in Egypt; they are living a supernatural existence in the desert; and they are preparing to enter the Promised Land. They may not yet realize that they are entering a land that is full of other nations, whose ways are unlike theirs and forbidden to the Children of Israel. God is warning them, in advance, not to be influenced by them – to shun the ways of the local peoples once they enter the Land.
The chapter ends with an incredible, spiritual statement that takes the previous admonition far beyond the issue of negative societal influences.
“For the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean, lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you…” (Leviticus 18:27-28)
The land itself is affected by the abominations. It is unable to tolerate the presence of nations who so defile themselves and the land, that there is a physical reaction of the land itself – it vomits up those who have defiled it. God admonishes the Jewish people not to do the same as those nations before it. For if the Jewish people engage in the same sort of abominations, they too will be vomited out of the land.
In fact, we know from Jewish history, that the Jewish people were vomited out of the land. Particularly the first exile, the destruction of the First Temple, is recorded in the prophets as a punishment for abominations that defiled the land and forced the exile upon them.
“And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination” (Jeremiah 2:7).
There is something very special, very supernatural about the Land of Israel, for it cannot tolerate the defilement.
Today, those of us who live in the Land of Israel and who read the Bible and take these verses seriously, are horrified at the growing level of “abominations” that exist in our holy land. Sexual impropriety and homosexuality are present in the land. Our Arab neighbors thrive on a modern form of worshipping the Molech – as they send their sons to be suicide bombers. The Bible is clear that all those who engage in these forbidden activities will be punished (Leviticus 18:29) but once the number of abominations reach a critical level, the people themselves will be vomited out.
The Jewish people are divided between secular and religious, and family values are not embraced by everyone. Will the balance shift in the negative direction? I hope and pray not. I hope that we can influence our secular neighbors to embrace the Biblical values that have held our nation together for centuries. God has promised us that He will return us to our land even after we have been thrown out. He has promised to help us return to Him and follow His ways. (Deuteronomy 30) I believe that we are here to stay and that He will not throw us out again. But it is incumbent upon us to do whatever we can to ensure that the land is kept pure – that the abominations are eradicated.
People like to talk about family values but the best way to encourage these important Biblical values is to literally strengthen families, especially those families with children who need special help.
You can help families of children with special needs by supporting the Karnei Shomron Child Development Center (Mafteach).
And here is a thought from the second portion: Kedoshim (Holy) Leviticus 16:1 - 20:27
“You shall be holy for I the Lord your G-d am holy.” Leviticus 19:2. Throughout Leviticus, God commands Moses to teach the Children of Israel or to instruct them in various commandments and rules of behavior. With this scripture, God introduces a few laws pertaining to our relationship with God, such as the Shabbat and the prohibition against idol worship. However, most of the commandments in this section relate to relationships within society, the treatment of the poor, honest employment practices and the very basic commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
But in the first commandment, which serves to introduce the entire chapter, God commands us to be holy. And to be holy because He is holy. In this brief instruction, we come to understand the very essence of man’s relationship to God. God is perfection. God is holiness. And it is God that we must emulate. We must be holy because He is holy!
And how is that holiness expressed? Not like in so many other religions, exclusively through rituals and ceremonies. Yes, we do need to keep the Shabbat and bring the ritual sacrifices to God and not to pagan idols. But that is dealt with so briefly. The thrust of the chapter is the expectation of holiness in our dealings with our fellow man.
“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him, the wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:13-14).
These two verses present just one example of the density of the laws mentioned in this portion, their universal morality and their connection with God. The original Hebrew word for “shall not remain with you all night” is “talin”, a word that literally means to stay overnight. In modern Hebrew, this word is used to describe the act of delaying a salary payment, which is illegal under Israeli law. It is this very verse that has served as the basis for the modern Israeli statute.
The prohibition against putting a stumbling block before the blind has been interpreted to include any action that would tempt someone to commit a sin against anyone who is without the knowledge or inner resources to resist the temptation. Just as a blind person is unable to see the physical obstacle before him and will therefore stumble, so too, a person with a known weakness for kleptomania, for example, should not be left alone in a shop, for he will be unable to comprehend the moral obstacle to theft and will help himself to the shop’s goods. This becomes society’s responsibility, not just the responsibility of the potential thief.
These verses, like so many others, end with the words “I am the Lord.” The moral imperatives listed in this portion are all intimately connected with our relationship with God. The portion begins with the statement that we must be holy for God is holy. The continuation of the chapter represents the fullness of this concept of emulating God’s ways: God is compassionate, and we must emulate this characteristic of God as well. For it is through our relationships with our fellow human beings, through acts of compassion and charity that we can indeed become holy and, as a people become worthy of the description that God himself assigns to the people of Israel: “A kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6)
Shabbat Shalom From Samaria,
Director, Israel Office